Alternative spring break trips popular

Hundreds of students, parents and leaders spend holidays helping others

BY CRWRC | GRAND RAPIDS, MI | April 3, 2010

"Each year, more and more teens and young adults want to do something valuable with their spring break"

—Art Opperwall, CRWRC

Instead of hitting the beaches, nearly 500 students, parents, and youth leaders are traveling to some of the nation’s hardest hit disaster sites during their spring break this year. The volunteers, some who are students from the Grand Rapids and West Michigan area, are giving up their time-off to help families who are recovering from hurricanes and floods, with help from the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC).

“Each year, more and more teens and young adults want to do something valuable with their spring break,” says CRWRC Disaster Response Services (DRS) program manager Art Opperwall. “The time that students and families give to volunteer during “Give ‘em a (Spring) Break!” projects makes a huge impact on people who have been devastated by disaster—and the experience has a dramatic effect on the volunteers themselves. It’s meaningful, it’s memorable, it’s mission-oriented--that’s what people who want an alternative are looking for.”

The volunteers, from Christian Reformed congregations (CRCs) in downtown Grand Rapids and the city of Wyoming, Imlay City, and as far afield as South Dakota and Nova Scotia, work on general housing reconstruction during their school break in March or April. Many will be spending April 3-10 shoveling debris, pounding nails, or painting newly spackled walls.

Opperwall explains that spring break volunteers are teamed with skilled supervisors who provide guidance and trade expertise to groups of up to 50 volunteers while they work in Gulf Coast states such as Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and other locations around the U.S.

“Adult groups from LaGrave CRC in Grand Rapids have volunteered with CRWRC-DRS for several years,” Opperwall says. “But this year is the first that youth pastor Bob Grussing and a group of students are going to Biloxi, Mississippi, to work in Hurricane Katrina reconstruction.”

Opperwall also said that other local groups, like Calvary CRC in Wyoming, have been volunteering their spring vacations with CRWRC-DRS for five years or more. This spring, Calvary’s youth group and their leader, Pastor John Quist, are helping families rebuild after flooding in 2008 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The volunteers also include students from local higher learning institutions like Calvin College and Spring Arbor University, as well as Colorado State University, and Queen’s University in Ontario. Opperwall says there is plenty of work for volunteers of all ages and skill levels, from clean-up to construction.

CRWRC focuses on disaster survivors who are poor, disabled, ill, elderly, without insurance, or otherwise unable to recover from a major disaster on their own, even though they may have received some rehabilitation assistance from federal government programs (FEMA).

CRWRC-DRS coordinates disaster recovery work groups like these during spring break and throughout the year. Those interested in applying can do so at or by calling 1-800-848-5818. CRWRC has opportunities for volunteers in rapid response, needs assessment, and reconstruction, in coordination with other national and faith-based disaster relief and recovery organizations.

For more information about CRWRC-DRS, or to fill out a volunteer application, go to Financial donations to CRWRC-DRS can be given online at or by calling 1-800-55-CRWRC.

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